St. Pete Beach investigation details financial mismanagement by former city manager amid new concerns

Neighbors in St. Pete Beach are calling for an investigation into how a multi-million dollar project ran out of money. 

The public works director told commissioners the mismanagement happened on the former city manager's watch and could leave the city on the hook for $6 million.

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Through an open records request, FOX13 learned, its not the only questionable spending happening on the beach.

"As residents and taxpayers, we don’t know what happened, but we need to know what happened. We are entitled to answers," said resident BJ Lawson.

At a meeting last week, the public works director, Mike Clarke, revealed it could cost taxpayers at least $6 million to finish moving overhead utility lines on Gulf Boulevard underground.

Pinellas County already paid for the project, and the director blames former city manager, Alex Rey.

"We’re sitting here with two-thirds of a project that was fully funded and doable from the beginning; it’s a very sad tale, but that’s the bottom line," Clarke said. "There was an incredible bit of mismanagement over the past couple of years."

"This kind of irresponsibility that we can’t afford in a day where we need every single dollar we can to replace our aging infrastructure," said Lawson. 

Rey resigned last September amid a Human Resources investigation.

FOX13 got a copy of that investigation, which was finalized in April. 

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It does not address the Gulf Boulevard project specifically but did find several areas of concern surrounding contracts and spending.

The report found the city manager went beyond his authority on several occasions to execute contracts over 25,000 without getting approval from the city commission. 

The investigation also found that the city manager hired independent contractors without going through the proper procurement process and also exceeded spending limits.

FOX13 spoke to the former city manager by phone on Tuesday. 

Rey said he has not seen a copy of the city’s investigation. He said he can't speak to the contract issues because the investigation does not specify which ones were problematic, but he maintains everything was done for a reason.

He also said he would welcome an investigation into the Gulf Boulevard project because it would prove the money was spent properly.  He added he’d want any investigation to be done by the county or a third party.

On that, neighbors agree.

"We need to have a full accounting of the facts," said Lawson.

The former city manager also added that the city should have started the project years ago before he arrived.

The mayor said the allegations surrounding the Gulf Boulevard project are serious, and he will be speaking with the city attorney about next steps.

FOX 13 has also reached out to Pinellas County to find out whether it will investigate or audit the $12 million it gave to the city for this project.